What does it take to make pinot noir?

Published by Sally on April 10, 2012

Frogmore Creek

Frogmore Creek

First stop on a tour of Tasmania was a pinot noir component tasting of Frogmore Creek’s Evermore pinot noir, where, according to the notes “every vintage we orchestrate several unconventional winemaking techniques for our micro-batches of handpicked grapes, which each develop their own flavours, aromas and textures as they ferment and mature in barrel” and which are blended into a final cuvée.

The 30 hectare Frogmore Creek vineyard from which fruit comes for this wine is at Penna, about half an hour north of Hobart.

One of the Tasmanian wine industry’s founding fathers, Andrew Hood, consults here, having sold his own business to Frogmore Creek owner Tony Scherer in 2003. The winemakers are Alain Rousseau, and Nick Glaetzer, brother of Ben Glaetzer who runs the family winery Glaetzer Wines in the Barossa Valley.  Nick also makes wine at Frogmore for his own Glaetzer-Dixon Family Winemakers label, and in 2011, won the 2011 Jimmy Watson trophy for his Mon Père Shiraz 2010 – from south Tasmania.

Glaetzer said “a lot of people think terroir is the whole thing. At Frogmore we think winemaking can play a role in making a wine a bit more exciting”, adding “we’re not dismissing terroir, we’re saying winemaking and viticultural choices can be manipulated to make something better than if you do nothing.”

This is quite a stance in the face of so much ‘natural’ wine fever.  Glaetzer said “we looked at what makes a great pinot noir – fruit, acid, tannin and length. So we’re looking to maximise that with good backbone and some flesh. We’re trying to get as many layers of fruit and savoury characters as possible [to have a wine that’s] rich and elegant and delicate.”

The Frogmore team evaluate plenty of trials in pursuit of “increasing complexity, layering and length” said Hood, adding “I can’t see us going back to the original control.” Glaetzer chipped in “because our vines so young, we weren’t getting complexity so we needed to do something to enhance that. This is something we can show to show we’re looking at pinot noir in a different way.“ Rousseau added “in Burgundy they have nothing to prove, here we have everything to prove.”

The tasting and explanations from Glaetzer were both eye and palate opening.

Component tasting of Frogmore Creek Evermore Pinot Noir, 2007 and 2011, in situ, February 2012.

First up a flight of 2007 vintage components

Control: destemmed and crushed. Enzymes added, inoculated with Burgundy yeast
Medium pale colour. Red cherry nose, fruit forward, sweet focused, toasted, straightforward and safe.

Whole berry (fruit destemmed), yeast added
Less aromatic than the first, thicker wine on palate, with more savoury texture. Bit more layering on the palate and concentrated flavours. Good substance.

Whole berry wild fermentation
Hint aromatic smokiness, light-medium weight, more elegant structure, lifted mid palate. Less overtly fruity, more savoury, wholesome, smooth texture, attractively balanced, bit of intellect in this one too.
Glaetzer: “with wild fermentation you get a more savoury mid palate length. It’s a good blending component, but it’s not getting enough fruit lift.”
Glaetzer: “the benefit of wild fermentation is an extended pre-fermentation maceration – it kicks off on day 5-6. It’s just a soak, not a cold soak, which reduces the overall tannin content.”

Crushed berries, wild fermentation
Nose a bit muted. Palate fragranced and floral, good depth of flavour, intensity and freshness.

Carbonic maceration
Bright red cherries, tunes, light tannin, flroal. Straight.
Glaetzer: “it has about 100 litres of fermenting juice at the bottom, with whole bunches on top.  We open lid after a week to check the VA, then destem to finish fermentation on skins.”
Glaetzer: “this is probably the most influential component. We use 2-3% in final blend, and this is probably enough.”

Control with +3% chardonnay
Is that a hint of peachiness, or is it all association? Not on the palate, which has sweet cherry tunes; texture is smooth/slippery in a good way. Sweet fruit core, but lacks a bit of grip
Glaetzer: “we co-ferment. White varieties lift, and give velvety structure. Pinot gris gives the best velvet tannin structure, while chardonnay more elegant.”

Amarone-style control
Sweet spicy nose, with sweet black pepper notes.  Not very pinot noir like.
Glaetzer: “We cut the cordons. It adds ~1 Baumé increase in sugar levels.

Amarone plus 15% stalks
Spicy red berries, fuller body, black pepper, hints of grip and becomes ‘red wine’, not pinot noir.
Glaetzer: “we added about 15% of stalks from not cut cordon fruit.”

Evermore final blend
The commercial release has 25-30% ‘amarone-style’, with 3% carbonic maceration, plus 5-8% of all the other components. Anything not used goes to the standard Frogmore label.
Tarry aromatic note, smooth and spicy warmth to palate attack and sour cherry mid palate. Not sure it has true pinot noir varietal character by my definition.

A similar tasting followed, across components from 2011

Control – taken out of barrel the previous week
Bright, crunchy black cherries. Ripe fruit, crunchy, straight, sappy, good fruit concentration.  Straight.,

Bob’s Saignée
Scientists at AWRI in Hobart. Drained most of the juice away, and kept in a cool room. Once skins had fermented to 2 Baumé, he added the juice back.
Dark berry fruits, quite grippy component to tannin, fine grain, full-bodied. Chunky, slightly four-square.

Bayanus 1375.
A yeast strain purified by AWRI, which accentuates savouriness, losing fruit brightness.
Spice, black peppercorns on nose, sweet bass rumtopf (without all the alcohol) stewed fruit a bit on the palate. Bit loose and amoeboid.

Cold Soak
Destem. Put in fridge at 5°C for 10 days, let warm up by self and fermentation with natural yeast.
Cold red berries, bright and sawdust notes. Round and glycerol-like sweetness mid palate. Lots of flavour at front, less at back. Crunchy balance.

Cold Soak with delayed MLF
Kept outside to delay malo ‘til spring, when weather warms up naturally (the natural course of events in Burgundy). Idea is it spends longer time on lees.
No great nose, sweet attack, rich, full texture (malo lees?), attractive. Lush with good varietal definition. Very nice on its own, for me. Has some power with elegance and succulence. But maybe lacks a bit of tartness to the acidity, somewhat full and fat.

Plus 3% fresh pinot gris berries
Lifted parma violets, sweet attack, bit slimy and dominant. Pinot noir varietal definition lost.

Plus 3% gewurztraminer frozen for a month, which shatters the skin walls.
Aromatic again, floral. Pinot noir varietal definition lost, gives perception of sweetness, and broadness.

Plus 3% skins of chardonnay and gewurztraminer
These are fermented skins (marc) added to must of pinot noir. Would have been 3% if they were whole bunches
Floral, rose petal perfume, quite gewurz-like.  Not very pinot noir like. Slippery tannins, and loose backbone. Lots of floral intensity.

Amarone-style with 15% stalks
Spicy, black pepper and warmth, stewed fruits. Not much pinot noir varietal definition. Full and spicy with tannic backbone and warmth.

Carbonic maceration
Juicy red cherries on nose, light and crunchy with good intensity. Straight down the line. I like the straightforward honesty of this.

Evermore, final 2011 blend
25-30% amarone, same level of other
Toasty, sandy nose, juicy lifted cherry fruits, crunchy, medium weight, young and crunchy, well balanced, fragrant mid palate. Good.

So whilst not finding much fragrant, lifted, tart cherry and cranberry pinot noir character in the amarone-style component, the 2011 final blend for me is more successful (more pinot noir-like), than the 2007, which has a similar amount of this component. Will the 2011 lose varietal definition with age, or have other components in the 2011 moderated the influence of ‘amarone-style’? Or maybe it’s vintage variation.  It’s great to experience this level of experimentation and searching for style.

My visit to Australia in February 2012 was sponsored by Wine Australia.

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